Reading: Understanding Intrapersonal Characteristics (pdf)


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The impact of intrapersonal characteristics on school performance and learner development - A reading to accompany Unit Six of the module: Teaching and Learning Mathematics in Diverse Classrooms. This reading is useful because it summaraizes the various theoretical perspectives for understanding inclusive education, and because it uses case studies of typical learners to illustrate how teaching and learning activities need to be adapted to ensure that all children, no matter what their background or intrapersonal characteristics do learn mathematics.

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Reading: Understanding Intrapersonal Characteristics (pdf)

  1. 1. READING Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics Judith Inglis, University of the WitwatersrandThe impact of intrapersonal characteristics on school performance and learner development – A reading to accompany Unit Six of the module: Teaching and Learning Mathematics in Diverse Classrooms South African Institute for Distance Education
  2. 2. Copyright© South African Institute for Distance Education (SAIDE) and the University of the Witwatersrand,2008The work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5South Africa License. To view a copy of this license, visit South African Institute for Distance Education Box 31822 Braamfontein 2017 South Africa Fax: +27 11 4032814 E-mail: Website:
  3. 3. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsContents Overview ........................................................................................................................... 1 1. Introduction ................................................................................................................... 2 2. Understanding more about the learners in Ellie’s classroom ....................................... 9 3. Differences in temperament ........................................................................................ 15 4. The effect of poverty on learning ............................................................................... 27 5. Understanding learning styles..................................................................................... 29 6. Supporting learning styles in a classroom situation.................................................... 40 7. Understanding cognitive differences .......................................................................... 47 8. Ellie’s story three months later! .................................................................................. 59 9. Conclusion .................................................................................................................. 61
  4. 4. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsOverviewThis reading is a slightly adapted version of Chapter 4 from ModuleThree of the Advanced Certificate in Education (LSEN), offered by theUniversity of the Witwatersrand. Judith Inglis, who teaches theprogramme also developed the materials. She also participated as a teammember in the development of the module, Teaching and LearningMathematics in Diverse Classrooms.Module Three of Judith’s programme is entitled UnderstandingCognitive, Emotional and Motivational Differences in Development.Within the framework of Ecosystemic Theory, the module deals with arange of reasons for learning difficulties and differences in learningdevelopment, both internal and external to the learner.The chapter contained in this reading, Chapter 4, deals with intrapersonalcharacteristics that affect learning and development.It is useful as a reading for Teaching and Learning Mathematics inDiverse Classrooms both because it summarizes the various theoreticalperspectives for understanding inclusive education, and because it usescase studies of typical learners to illustrate how teaching and learningactivities need to be adapted to ensure that all children, no matter whattheir background or intrapersonal characteristics do learn mathematics.The materials are intended for independent learning, and hence we havepreserved much of their original format.References for the ReadingButchner, J.N. and Carson, R.C. (1992) Abnormal Psychology andModern Life (9th ed) Harper Collins, New York.Gazda, G (1979) Human Relations Development: A Manual forEducators (2nd ed) Allyn and Bacon Inc, USA. Chapter 1.A selection of handouts and course notes used in contact teachingsessions developed in the Discipline of Specialised Education –Educational Psychology, University of the Witwatersrand, 1990 – 2000. 1
  5. 5. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics1. IntroductionAs you read this Chapter, think about how the Ecosystemic Theory can be used as a framework tounderstanding learning difficulties by encouraging educators to explore the system of the widerenvironment and its effects on learners.There are three systems that form the core of the Ecosystemic Theory: 1. The wider socio-political environment and economic status that include the economic and family situation as well as the political situation into which the learner is born. 2. Interpersonal relationships that include how much support the learner receives from his/her immediate and wider family, peers, siblings, educators, or any other significant person; and 3. Intrapersonal characteristics, individual characteristics the learner is born with that may include physical, emotional, cognitive or motivational differences.In this chapter, we will be taking a look at the third system as contributing to learning differences -Intrapersonal Characteristics.Before moving on let’s look at the main points that relate to the first and second systems.Contextual disadvantage, especially poverty and low income, can have a negative impact on the livesof people of all ages. A breakdown in the wider environmental system can negatively affect alearner’s overall development and functioning, resulting in or contributing to learning difficulties inclassroom and school settings.Learners also need for good, strong interpersonal relationships, especially during times of stressfullife events. A lack of interpersonal support can easily contribute to emotional, cognitive,motivational and even behavioural differences in learners.An interaction between the wider environment and the immediate environment (stressful life events),together with a learner’s individual capacity for coping with such external factors, can lead to learningdifficulties and differences in development.Now it is time to see how some differences in learner’s cognitive, emotional and motivationaldevelopment are inborn to particular learners.STOP AND THINK!If you were to take a quick look at the learners in your classroom, you would immediately notice thateach child is physically different from the others. They may differ in colour, height, weight, andgender as well as in so many other small, yet significant ways. From observing physical differences inlearners, it is common for educators to notice that different learners have different physical abilities. 2
  6. 6. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsAs an educator, you know that no two learners are thesame. And sometimes, from observing physicaldifferences, you gain an understanding that differentchildren have different abilities. Very often, maybewithout us even realising it, the physical differences wenotice amongst a diverse learner population result in usaccommodating physical differences in small ways andinfluencing our expectations of different children orteenagers in our classrooms.How about this for an example: You would not expect ashort, plump and uncoordinated learner to be an activemember of the soccer team, as you would understandthat such a child does not have the physicalcharacteristics needed to maintain good ball control or tobecome a fast runner.Understanding and accepting physical differences is anormal human response and it is a very importantresponse.Imagine what would happen if learners who were physically incapable of walking were expected totake part in school athletics, or if a learner who did not have full use of her hands was expected toexcel in sewing. Imagine how such learners would feel emotionally and motivationally, especially ifthey were punished for not excelling in these areas. Oh no! How will I ever be able to cope? What a joke! Am I really expected to try out for the soccer team when I can’t use my left leg at all? 3
  7. 7. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics That was so funny, but I wish Sarah Everyone is would stop leaning laughing. What’s against me … I am the joke? I don’t getting very understand what is agitated! so funny.DID YOU KNOW? In much the same way that learners in a classroom differ physically from one another, they also differ in terms of personality and character. All children and teenagers differ internally from one another. They have different personalities, different cognitive abilities and different emotions. In order to accommodate such differences within a classroom situation, it is important that educators recognise such internal differences and understand that the different learners found within a classroom are individuals with their own specific needs and abilities. In order to be an effective educator, it is important that you are able to identify internal differences amongst learners and adapt your teaching styles and attitudes accordingly.Oh no! The people who thought up the Ecosystemic Theory of understanding learner differences mustbe mad! Do they expect us to see into our learners’ minds as well as find out about theirenvironment? This is just too hard!If this is what you are thinking … calm down!While it is important that educators understand intrapersonal differences amongst the learners in theirclassrooms, the purpose of this chapter is to support you in this understanding and provide you withinformation and tools that will better equip you to recognise and accommodate learner differencesthat are often hidden in the minds and emotions of individual learners.More importantly, because we understand how difficult it is to recognise and accommodate learnerdifferences that are internal to individual learners, we have set out this chapter as a case study. It isour hope that by doing so, you, as an educator, will be able to identify some of the characteristicsexhibited by learners who have intrapersonal differences. We also hope that you will be able toidentify with the educator in the case study as she finds out about internal differences that impact onher learners and makes changes in her attitudes and teaching style in order to accommodate diversityacross her classroom.Let’s begin this exciting journey towards understanding intrapersonal characteristics and learnerdifferences! 4
  8. 8. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsHELP! MY LEARNERS ARE STILL NOT LEARNING! Hi, my name is Ellie and I am an educator. I guess you could say that I am a hard working and conscientious educator because I really work hard. I also try and find out everything I can about helping the learners in my class. I have been on lots of ‘teacher courses’ and I have tried out many of the support strategies and discovered that some of them work well. I am excited about the changes I have seen in my learners and in my own professional development.However, there are still some learners I just don’t understand … and a few who are driving meMAD!!!I am especially unhappy with the learners in my class who are slow, uncooperative, messy or justplain naughty!I have thought about whether these learners have intellectual differences, or emotionaldifferences due to a lack of interpersonal support. I have considered their homeenvironments and even wondered if they have a ‘specific learning difference’ or somekind of ‘weird difference’ that I know nothing about.I have tried to be supportive and encouraging, but I am getting tired. I don’t knowwhat the problem is with some learners but what I do know is that they are making mylife very difficult!STOP AND THINK! Can you, in any way, identify with the feelings described above? Are there any learners in your class, who make your life difficult because you just can’t seem to get through to them?It is time now for you to do a short activity. It is not the person with a difference who is the problem, but the inadequate reactions of the people around him. Pause a while and think about how you as an educator react to learners in your classroom who have “unspecified” differences that interfere with the way you teach and the way your learners’ learn. What is your opinion of the above quote?I don’t believe that there is a line that divides us, one from another. I believe that we are all the same, black or white, rich or poor, man or woman, abled or disabled. And if there are differences between us, I believe that these differences only serve to define us and not to divide us. 5
  9. 9. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics Jot down a few common differences between people. Write a paragraph describing how you understand the idea of being defined by differences. Explain how you as an educator could allow differences to define the people around you. Explain what you think would happen if we allow differences to divide us. In a few sentences try and link the quote found above to your attitudes towards learners you do not understand or who perform poorly at school for reasons you have not discovered.If you as an educator are to be responsive to the diverse needs of learners in your classroom it isimportant that you have a good understanding of the learners you teach and a deep desire to help themachieve their full potential. Unfortunately, many educators are intolerant of learners who show signs ofunspecified differences and have negative attitudes and perceptions regarding children who arecontinuously slow, messy, untidy, disrespectful, uncooperative, or just plain naughty.It is so easy to fall into the trap of becoming frustrated with learners we do not understand. Sadly, ourfrustrations affect our attitudes towards and perceptions of ‘difficult learners’. When this occurs, ourreactions to learners with differences are often inadequate and may even result in a learner’s barrierto learning becoming worse.Spend some time now exploring your own attitudes towards learners who you think are difficult bycompleting the attitude checklist on the following page. Remember that no one is going to be lookingat your responses, so you can be totally honest.On the following page you will find an educator attitude checklist. Complete this checklist in order todetermine for yourself how much of a problem you are when dealing with diversity in your classroom. EDUCATOR ATTITUDE CHECKLIST √Do you consider learners who constantly make mistakes to be wasting your time?Do you treat the learners in your class differently from one another depending onwhether you like them or not?Do you favour learners in your class who work quietly and well over learners who arenoisy and untidy in their work?Do you punish learners who do not complete their work or who do not followinstructions?Do you get irritated with learners who constantly ask for support and confirmation ofwhat they are doing? 6
  10. 10. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsDo you dislike learners who look dirty and unkempt?Do you tend to pick on “naughty” learners constantly?Have you ever belittled a learner for not understanding a task?Do you distinguish between “clever” and “stupid” classes or individual learners andput more energy into teaching the “clever” ones than the others?Do you consider only some learners worth teaching?Do you punish learners who do not have the proper school equipment or uniform?Do you tend to ignore learners who have problems but who are well behaved?Do you label your learners? e.g. He has a behaviour problem .Have you ever said about a learner: “She has something wrong with her, there isnothing I can do, it’s not my responsibility.”Have you ever used the following words, or similar words, to describe a learner to yourcolleagues:I hate that child.He’s so stupid. 7
  11. 11. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsShe’s such an idiot.I give up.I can’t stand _________.I wish he’d stop coming to school.She is so dumb.DID YOU KNOW?If you have answered yes to even one of these questions, you have a problem with your attitude! Andthis attitudinal problem may well be impacting negatively on learners who need your support andassistance. How scary!!!!It is so important for educators across southern Africa to build and develop classroom situations thatform a welcoming community, are free of discrimination, and which provide effective education forall learners entering your classroom. In order to create such a climate of learning, educators need toshift the way they think about their function in society, the function of the curriculum, and the functionof the educator within the classroom setting.This means that as an educator, a large part of your job would be to build children up, provide love,acceptance, understanding and assistance and to help them become the best that they can be. Now, itis time to explore how learners with differences in intrapersonal characteristics can develop barriersto learning. We will begin our path to understanding internal learner differences by finding out moreabout the types of learners who drive Ellie ‘mad’. 8
  12. 12. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics2. Understanding more about thelearners in Ellie’s classroomI have been an educator for 8 years. I always thought that I knew what I was doing. I stuck to the curriculum and maintained good discipline in my classroom. As I mentioned previously, I attended numerous in order to better understand my learners and meet their needs. The information and skills I have obtained from the different courses I have been on have helped me to improve my attitude towards my learners and to adjust my classroom practice to become more accommodating of individual learner differences.I have started to enjoy teaching again and am even becoming creative – applying what I have learnt tomy own situation. My life would be wonderful if it were not for a small handful of learners who I justdo not understand and who I cannot seem to reach. Let me tell you a bit about these learners now.JosephJoseph is a learner I simply cannot understand. He never listens in class andstruggles to follow instructions or to get work done. He is always distracted,fidgety and bad tempered.The other day, when my learners were all involved in a project makingposters about HIV/AIDS and painting them, Simon accidentally spilt somewater on Joseph and Martha’s desk. What an uproar!While Simon quietly went and fetched a cloth to clean up the mess, Joseph went totally mad. Hestarted crying at the top of his voice and screamed at Simon, calling him all sorts of terrible names.Then Joseph started jumping up and down, demanding that Simon clean up the mess and replace hispens, pencils and paper. It took over an hour to calm Joseph down but nothing could be done withhim for the remainder of the day as he spent the entire time glaring at Simon. Not only does Josephreact like this to any kind of change in the classroom, he also does not enjoy class activities that allthe other learners seem to like. For example, when we had a guest speaker come to our class,Joseph immediately disliked him and refused to co-operate with him. I am getting annoyed with hisconstant bad temper and his attitude towards schoolwork. I can see that Joseph is unhappy, but he isalso creating a negative atmosphere in my classroom. He upsets other learners who normally enjoytheir time at school and I am really beginning to dislike him.I have tried giving Joseph personal attention and opportunities to talk about what may be botheringhim, but during these times, he fidgets and shows anger at being disrupted.I don’t know what to do with Joseph anymore. And he is not the only difficult learner in my class.There is also Thomas! 9
  13. 13. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsThomasI know that Thomas comes from a poor background and that there isvery little money in the family. And I am doing everything in my powerto help learners who come from impoverished backgrounds. Some ofmy colleagues and myself have started a feeding scheme at school toensure that children like Thomas are fed. In addition, at the beginningof each term, I buy the learners from poor homes pen and pencil sets sothat they can take part in work at school. I thought that the provision offood and school equipment would motivate Thomas in the same way itappears to motivate other learners but, it doesn’t!Thomas is frequently absent from school for no reason at all. He also comes to school dirtyand smelly wearing any clothes he feels like. Over the past year, he has been caught stealingmore than thirty times. His homework is never done and I have never seen his parents atschool functions once, even though I have written many letters to his home.Thomas misses out on so much schoolwork because of his absenteeism. Even when he doesdecide to attend class, he may as well not be there because he continues to miss out on workas he sleeps during lessons. He also “leaves” his pen and pencil at home when he does cometo school so that he can’t work.I really thought he would be grateful for the food we give him and the pencils and things Iprovide - Oh No! He has such an attitude! If I speak to him, he refuses to answer and if Ishout, he just doesn’t come to school the next day. I have tried to be loving and nice to himbut he is an impossible child. There is no motivation in him whatsoever.Are you feeling sorry for me yet? If not, read further. There are even more difficult learners in myclass.Libuseng and JoyceLibuseng and Joyce are the ‘clever ones’ in my class.When everyone is involved in cooperative learning, bydoing group work activities or peer tutoring, these twosit back and watch. They seem to think that they are toogood to join in any activities and they always have adisapproving look on their faces when we move fromone topic to another.Both Libuseng and Joyce think they are better thananyone else in the class, myself included.They always want their work to be “perfect” and they spend hours getting things done. Also,they always want to work “on their own” and they take their time about it! Another thingthey do that drives me crazy is that they never try to answer questions, and even if I try toencourage them, it makes no difference. It’s almost as if they think the question is beneaththem.10
  14. 14. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsThey have the attitude that “I know this, but I dont have to say it”. They frown on learnerswho take short cuts when working, even if the short cuts taken are practical - these twoalways have to do things the hard way. They are so alike in so many aspects you might thinkthat they are related, but they are not.The only time I have ever seen these two happy is when we watch a video or a show orsomething. Their behaviour is unacceptable - they come to school to learn and take part inactivities ... not to be entertained! I get so tired of them.You may be thinking that what with Joseph, Libuseng, Joyce and Thomas I have enough problemlearners in my classroom. You would be wrong. I have kept the most difficult learner for last. Hername is Patience.PatiencePatience was very well named, because any educator having alearner like her in the classroom needs a lot of ‘patience’. I havetried to think of a complimentary way to describe her, but the best Ican come up with is ‘stupid’. I know this is not a nice word to call alearner, but then, you dont know Patience. Patience has virtually nocommon sense at all and she is totally disorganised. Whatever isdiscussed in class Patience always meets it with a ‘blank gaze’. Shealso tends to misunderstand what is going on about her - no matterwhat the topic. She doesn’t follow instructions and seems to forgetwhat she is supposed to be doing minutes after I have told her. Icannot count the number of times I have asked the class to line up togo somewhere and when we are about to leave, I still see Patience at her desk. When I askher what she is supposed to be doing, she looks up, looks around the room, and sees all theother learners in a line and smiles. “Oh, I should line up,” she says.Patience never completes any activity set for her and will often sit and stare at a page forhours without reading a single word. Nobody wants her in their group for group-work or forany fun activities involving sport. It seems as though she can’t make sense of the world abouther and doesn’t know what is expected of her no matter how many times she is told. I think itwould help Patience more if she went to a special school for children with low IQ’s. Schoolfor her is just like a baby-sitting session. I dont know what to do with her, nothing I havetried helps, she is constantly leaving her work at home and generally I leave her alone. 11
  15. 15. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics OK! So now you have heard about the difficult learners in my class and the way I think about them. I freely admit that I don’t understand these learners and that in some cases actively dislike them. They make my life hard. Does this make me a bad teacher?Unless you have been especially fortunate in your job as an educator, reading through Ellie’sdescription of different types of learners she experiences trouble with should have reminded you oflearners you have come into contact with over your teaching career. You may even have a fewlearners in your class right now who you think show similar attitudes and behaviours to thosedescribed by Ellie. What do you think their problems or learning differences include?It is time for you to do an activity aimed at helping you begin to understand possible reasons behindfrustrating behaviours learners in your classroom may exhibit.ActivityOn your own or with your study partner, look at the different categories of difference outlined in thetable on the following page. Read the definitions of these differences and using the informationyou have gained from Ellie about her ‘difficult learners’ as well as knowledge from previouschapters in this module, try and match the learners mentioned in the case studies to the differentcategories of learning difference.Once you have completed this task, move on to think about the questions that have been prepared foryou to think about.12
  16. 16. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsCategory of Definition Name ofDifference LearnerThe Cycle of Poverty reinforces poor education and social conditions - andPoverty ultimately more poverty - in a cycle of negative causes and effects. Poverty often goes hand in hand with absenteeism, lack of a culture of learning in the home, and a lack of motivation involving things school related.Cognitive Learners can differ in terms of cognitive processing.Processing Inadequate cognition can be caused by both poor mediationDifferences and by a deprived home and school environment. Cognitive differences can impact negatively on the way a learner ‘processes’ or understands the world around him or her. This type of difference can affect the way a learner plans, pays attention, and develops concepts or understanding about the world around them. It can also create difficulties for a learner’s ability to follow instructions or complete tasks in the correct order.Temperament Temperament refers to the basic behavioural style in whichDifferences individuals cope with different situations. Temperamental differences affect the way in which a learner focuses on a task, is distracted by disruptions in the environment, interacts with other people in the environment, or responds to different situations.Learning Style Not all learners learn in the same way. Some learners learnDifferences well through certain activities or approaches, while others do not. For example, some individuals prefer practical exercises and are eager to learn from their mistakes while others prefer to receive demonstration and examples before reflecting on content. Other learners rely heavily on theoretical, abstract discussion to establish thought processes and method for action and some prefer to be given information or taught skills.STOP AND THINK!Think about the learners in your own class for a minute. Are there any learners in your class who could be experiencing learning difficulties relating to one or more of the categories mentioned above? How would you know? What do you think you could do about it?You will have seen in the activity you have just completed that internal differences that can impactnegatively on learners include differences in cognitive ability, temperament, individual leaning styles,as well as issues related to the cycle of poverty. In this chapter we will be focusing more on the threeother types of internal differences that can impact on a learner’s school performance anddevelopment: namely differences of cognitive /thinking skills, differences related to learning styles,and differences of temperament. 13
  17. 17. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsBefore going into detail regarding these internal differences, spend some reading through the ‘thoughtjoggers’.Thought Joggers!One of the greatest challenges facing educators is how to treat our learners as if they are valued andimportant human individuals, especially when they are different from us or have barriers to learning.When people are different, we often dwell on their differences and tend to lose sight of their potentialand their greatness.There is a Zulu word, “Ngiyakubona”, which means “I see you” – I don’t see you as rich or poor,abled or disabled, male or female, black or white, what you can’t do in comparison to other people …it means I see you – the human being and treat you with love, fascination and empathy. How often do you really “see” the “difficult learners that you come into contact with? How often do you “see” the problems and difficulties they exhibit, when you should be seeing the individual as a whole human being?If you as an educator are to be responsive to the diverse needs of the learners and educators in yourschool, it is important that you have a good understanding of your learners and a deep desire to helpthem achieve their full potential.Unfortunately, as we have seen in Ellie’s story, it is so easy to feel intolerant of learners who havenegative attitudes, and learners who are continuously slow, messy, untidy, disrespectful,uncooperative and just plain “naughty”. It is so easy to focus on the part of a learner does not workor that presents a problem to us, that we often miss out on understanding what our learners are trulycapable of.As you move through this chapter on intrapersonal differences try to focus on aspects of internaldifferences found in learners from the following perspective: 1. NOT WHAT THEY CAN’T DO, BUT WHAT THEY CAN DO 2. NOT HOW THEY DON’T LEARN, BUT HOW THEY DO LEARN 3. NOT WHO THEY AREN’T, BUT WHO THEY AREThe first intrapersonal difference we will be looking at in this chapter relates to differences inlearners’ temperament.14
  18. 18. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics3. Differences in temperament Before going into detail about differences in temperament, reread Ellie’s description of Joseph. STOP AND THINK! If you had a learner such as Joseph in your classroom, how would you describe his behaviour on his report card? Write your response down.Was your response similar to any of the following statements? Is a disruptive influence on other learners Does not participate positively in classroom activities Is easily distracted Does not listen in class Needs to concentrate more Does not react appropriately to situations in the classroom Needs to work harder and learn to control his temperWhen we think about learners’ abilities at school, educators tend to think in terms of how intelligenceand concentration influences a learner’s academic abilities.Many educationalists however disagree with this and believe that temperament differences play amore powerful role in influencing a learner’s academic abilities than intelligence.DID YOU KNOW?Research into the area of temperamental differences has concluded that there is a strong link betweentemperament and academic success.TAKE NOTE!It is important when trying to understand how temperament is related to academic success that yourealise right from the start of this section that temperament has got nothing to do with intelligence orcognitive functioning.So, what is temperament?DEFINITIONThomas and Chess (1984) describe temperament as “a basic behavioural style that is innate andenduring.” This means that temperament refers to the way in which an individual behaves or copes incertain situations (innate) and which do not change over time (enduring).Keogh (1982) stated that temperament describes “not so much what the child does, but the way inwhich he or she does it”. 15
  19. 19. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsSTOP AND THINK! In Ellie’s description of Joseph, was Ellie describing what Joseph does, or the way in which he does it? Do you think there may be learners in your class whose ability is overshadowed by the way in which they behave?Temperament refers to long-term differences in behaviour role styles that influence the way we dothings or react to situations. Because of this, people who have different temperaments will react verydifferently to different situations and may show behaviours that appear ‘different to the norm’. Inaddition, because people are born with their own temperaments, it is extremely difficult to change aperson’s behaviour or reaction to changing situations. Remember ... temperament is enduring!When speaking about temperament, we can use the words “easy” and “difficult”.A learner with an easy temperament is one who adjusts well to his or her surroundings and basicallyis easy to teach. A learner with a difficult temperament, such as Joseph, could have high activitylevels and intense feelings about life which can result in them being much more difficult to teach.Learners with difficult temperaments are likely to develop learning difficulties if their educators do notcarefully consider their temperamental differences.There are three main areas of temperament difference that affect learners.They are as follows: Task Orientation; Personal and Social Flexibility; and Reactivity.Let’s look at each of these areas one at a time.16
  20. 20. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics Task OrientationTask Orientation is concerned with the way in which learners are likely to approach school tasks andcan be divided into three categories. These categories include persistence, distractibility and activity. Persistence Distractibility ActivityPersistence relates to the Distractibility means how well a Activity refers to how much alength of time that a learner can stay focused on a person moves physically.learner will spend on task despite distractions in the A learner with low activity will betrying to complete a task. environment. able to sit quietly for long periods ofSome learners are very There are usually many time, while a learner with highpersistent and will not distractions in a classroom like activity levels will be constantly ongive up, even on a very noise and movement and things the move.difficult task. happening outside. High activity learners tend to moveOther learners, as soon as Learners with low levels of around the class a lot and may oftenthey believe a task is too distractibility are able to ignore ask frequently to go to the toilet.difficult for them, will these disturbances while a When sitting down, their bodies aresimply stop trying. learner with high levels of always moving. Sometimes their distractibility will be easily feet tap, or their legs bounce up and disturbed and interrupted by down and they often fiddle with environmental distractions. things on their desks.THINK! THINK! THINK!Try to think of one Can you identify learners with Who in your class has the highestlearner in your class who both low and high levels of and the lowest activity levels?is persistent and one who distractibility? Who amongst the educators in yourgives up easily. How easy are distractible school has the highest and lowestWrite their names down. learners to teach? activity levels?Now, think about What about you? Are you Which type of activity level do youyourself. Are you distractible or do you focus well think is most conducive to achievingpersistent or do you give on tasks? in a classroom setting?up easily? 17
  21. 21. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics Personal and Social FlexibilityThis temperament dimension is understood as the way learners are likely to interact with people intheir environment. Personal and social flexibility can also be divided into three categories. Theseinclude adaptability, approach/withdrawal and positive mood. Adaptability Approach/Withdrawal Positive MoodAdaptability comes from the Approach/withdrawal means Positive mood simply meansword “adapt” and refers to the whether a learner will happily whether a learner is usually in aability to adapt to change in and easily move into a new good mood and seems happyorder to suit a new situation. situation or whether a learner within his/her environment. will withdraw from a newSome learners accept and adapt situation. THINK!to new situations very easilywhile others cannot bear a Some learners leap happily into How many learners in yourchange in their routine and different and new situations classroom have basic positivereact badly to all changes. while others hold back and moods? prefer to watch an activity fromTHINK! the sidelines rather than How do you respond to these participate in the activity. learners?What type of adaptabilitytemperament does Joseph have THINK! Do you have a positive mood?and how does it impact on hisown learning and the way the Which learners in your classeducator responds to him? withdraw from new situations?How adaptable are you? How do you react to these learners?Do you enjoy change or do youprefer to stay in your own Do you force them into the new“comfort zone”? situation or do you give them some time to adjust?18
  22. 22. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics ReactivityOnce again we find three categories within this characteristic. They include intensity, threshold ofresponse and negative mood. Intensity Threshold of Response Negative MoodIntensity means how seriously Threshold of response refers to Negative mood simply meansa learner responds to the how much stimulus an learners who always seem to beenvironment. individual needs in order to in a bad mood and who appear respond to a situation. constantly frustrated andSome learners appear to be irritable with their“happy-go-lucky” and not too A learner with a low threshold environment.serious. Other learners take of response is slow to get angrylife very seriously. They are or excited. Learners with high THINK!very intense and feel thresholds of response losepassionately about many their temper at the slightest How many learners in yourthings. provocation. classroom have basic negative moods?THINK! THINK! How do you respond to theseWho is the most intense learner Which of the learners in your learners?in your class? class get angry very quickly? Do you have a negative mood?How easy is he/she to teach? How do you respond to these learners?How well does he/she get onwith other learners? What about you, yourself? Do you have a low or a high threshold of response?From the work you have just covered, you should have a pretty good idea of who in your class hasdifferences in temperament. Time now to return to the subject of ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’ learners!TAKE NOTE!We will now explore how temperament can influence behaviour within a classroom setting. However,before we do this, it is important that you take careful note of the statement below! Temperamentally difficult learners are not disabled or handicapped in any way, they simply have a different way of responding to their environment from temperamentally easy learners. 19
  23. 23. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsLook carefully at the descriptions of temperamental differences listed below and evaluate howtemperamental differences have influenced the behaviour described in the “response” column.Temperamentally Difficult Learners Response in the classroom Temperamental characteristic Gets angry easily High threshold of response Remains angry for a long time High intensity/negative mood Does not adjust well to changes Low adaptability, withdrawal from new situations, views change negatively Fidgety and restless High activity and high distractibility Unco-operative and bad tempered Negative moodTemperamentally Easy Learners Response in the classroom Temperamental characteristic Does not anger easily Low threshold of response Gets over anger easily Low intensity Enjoys and adjusts well to changes High adaptability, approaches new situations happily Focused and usually finishes all work Low activity and low distractibility Co-operative and happy Positive moodSTOP AND THINK! How do differences in temperament affect the way in which you as an educator respond to different learners? How do you think differences in temperament can affect a learner’s learning? If you were providing support for a learner with a difficult temperament, what type of assistance would you suggest be implemented?So far, we have looked at ways of identifying differences in temperament by providing you withinformation about how learners can be classified according to a list of characteristics that arereflected in their behaviour. While it is useful to be able to identify ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’ learners inyour classroom, this information is not enough. You also need to understand how temperament canimpact on the way a learner learns as well as how educators’ attitudes towards learners with differenttemperaments can either enhance or obstruct learning.20
  24. 24. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsTHE EFFECTS OF TEMPERAMENT ON LEARNINGResearch has shown that learners who have easy temperaments do better at school than learners whoare temperamentally difficult.In order to understand why this is so, we need to look more closely at the differences betweentemperamentally ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’ learners.EASY LEARNERS• Easy learners are usually high in persistence and low in distractibility and activity. This means that they are well suited to the structured nature of the classroom environment, which commonly requires learners to sit quietly and work for long periods of time.• Because easy learners have low levels of activity and are not easily distracted, they tend to absorb more of what the educator says, are better able to follow instructions, and can sit quietly and do their work.• In addition, easy learners are usually in a good mood and are more able to maintain their mood despite changes in the environment. Because their moods are positive and fairly stable, they are emotionally free to focus on their schoolwork.DIFFICULT LEARNERS• Difficult learners tend to have low persistence and high levels of distractibility and activity. This means that the common, structured classroom environment does not suit them at all. They are seen to be fidgety and restless, they struggle to concentrate for long periods of time, and they give up easily on more difficult tasks. Due to these differences, difficult learners often miss instructions that educators give and struggle to focus on and finish their work.• Difficult learners can often be in a negative mood and can spend hours nursing their anger and frustrations. Due to such characteristics, they may have little concentration left over for their schoolwork.If we think back to what we know about Joseph, we remember that after the incident with Simon, somuch of his attention was taken up by being angry and irritable that he was unable to focus on hisschoolwork.We have seen how differences in temperament can have a substantial effect on how different learnersare able to function academically within a classroom environment. We have also seen how theclassroom environment is more suitable to learners with an easy temperament than to those who areborn with a more difficult temperament.Through this understanding, we begin to realise how the school environment can act as a barrier tolearning for some learners. But did you know that educators’ attitudes towards difficult learnerscould also act as a barrier to learning? Let’s spend some time looking at how an educator’s attitudecan negatively impact on some types of learners. 21
  25. 25. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsEDUCATORS’ ATTITUDES AND LEARNER COMPETENCETAKE NOTE!According to research, it has been found that the most important aspect of differences of temperamentinvolve not the learner with the difference, but the educators attitude towards learners withtemperamental differences.Barbara Keogh did a lot of research into temperament and how it influences educators’ perceptions oftheir learners. She found extensive evidence that temperament influences educators’ judgements oflearners’ academic competence, their evaluation of learners’ performance, and decisions aboutassessment feedback. Keogh’s research found that educators prefer “easy” learners. According toKeogh, educators usually have high academic expectations of easy learners and tend to spend moretime with them. In addition, educators also respond more positively to easy learners and on the wholeare more encouraging towards them. They also tend to provide easy learners with more interpersonalsupport.In most classroom situations, easy learners feel liked and understood by their educators and areinclined to feel happy and confident in the classroom. Their self-confidence in turn boosts theirmotivation and, although they are usually “good workers” to begin with, they are spurred on toachieve even higher levels of success. School is such fun and my teacher likes me. I love to work hard and get stars in my book.Keogh’s research found that educators tend to dislike “difficult” learners.Generally, educators struggle to get on with difficult learners and sometimes even actively dislikethem. Educators often have low expectations for difficult learners and do not consider spending timewith them as worthwhile. Not only do educators spend less time with difficult learners, sometimesthey ignore them completely. On the whole, educators respond negatively to difficult learners andmost of the interactions with these learners involve shouting at them or punishing them in some way.It is seldom that a difficult learner receives adequate interpersonal support from either his/her educatoror peers. In addition, educators are normally rather negative in their feedback to difficult learners andthis negative feedback, results in the already difficult learner feeling unhappy and misunderstood atschool.22
  26. 26. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsDifficult learners often feel worthless and different when comparing themselves to easy learners. Thisaffects their self-esteem and confidence. A poor self-image combined with poor working habits and alack of understanding and support within the classroom contributes to low levels of motivation indifficult learners. These factors often result in deterioration in the schoolwork of difficult learnersover time. I hate this new work! Last time I got everything wrong and my teacher shouted at me. What am I supposed to do now? I can’t even remember the instructions. Oh, look at this pretty picture … I wish I could go on a camping trip like that. Maybe I can ask my mother later.STOP AND THINK!Think about the learners in your class.Do you treat them differently according to their temperament?Does your own temperament affect the way you treat different learners?From what you understand about the importance of interpersonal support in the lives of learners, howdo you think you could change your relationship with difficult learners to assist and support them intheir cognitive, emotional and motivational development?Suggestions for Supporting Learners with Differences inTemperamentDifferences of temperament, while frequently ignored or misunderstood, make a powerful contributionto a learner’s academic success or failure. It is therefore very important that educators be aware of theeffects of temperamental differences and try to interact with difficult learners in a way that will maketheir schooling easier and less stressful.We have already discovered in this module that every learner is different. Because of this, there are noblue prints for addressing difficult learners. Unfortunately this means that in your role as an educator,you will need to identify temperamental differences amongst your learners and then actively look foropportunities and ways of encouraging such learners.But don’t despair! We are not leaving you alone to try and figure out how to support difficult learnersall by yourself … we will supply you with some suggestions that you can begin trying out and lateradapting, modifying, or adding to. 23
  27. 27. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsHere are a few tips to get you started!How to Deal with Difficult Learners:• Difficult learners need more of your time, not less. Try not to reject or ignore them. Their behaviour will probably become worse if you do.• Where possible, try to ignore their wrong doings and praise them for what they do well.• Remember at all times that you are the adult in the classroom and as such it is important that you model maturity and understanding in your reactions and attitudes towards difficult learners.• Try to always treat difficult learners with understanding, concern and fairness.• Never allow your personal feelings towards a difficult learner to influence the way you assess or evaluate their performance.ActivityThis activity requires you to determine the temperamental characteristics of the learner you selectedto work with for your final assignment. It will also contribute towards your final assignment mark.So complete this activity before reading any further or you may forget about it later.TAKE NOTE!You may photocopy this questionnaire to use with any of your learners for assessment purposes. 1. Fill in the questionnaire for your learner using the information you have learned in this section and determine whether his/her temperament could be impacting on classroom behaviour and motivation to succeed. 2. Once you have completed the form for your learner, analyse it in order to understand your findings by following the instructions listed immediately after the questionnaire24
  28. 28. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics TEMPERAMENT QUESTIONNAIRELearner’s name : ______________________________________________________ Characteristic Very much Not a lot Very littleHigh persistenceSits quietly and focuses on a taskfor an hourLow persistenceStarts a task but seldom finishes itHigh distractibilityEasily drawn away from work bynoisesLow distractibilitySits still when a story is being toldHigh activityHas difficulty sitting stillLow activityCan sit still for a reasonableamount of timeHigh adaptabilityLikes to go on errandsLow adaptabilityTakes a long time to get used toany changeWithdrawingShy when meeting new childrenPositive mood 25
  29. 29. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics Learner’s name : ______________________________________________________ Characteristic Very much Not a lot Very little Negative mood High intensity Overreacts in stressful situations Low intensity Shows little or no reaction when a position is taken away Low threshold response Slow to get angry or excited High threshold response Quick to anger or get excitedInstructions for AnalysisOn a piece of paper that you attach to the temperament questionnaire, write a short paragraph inwhich you describe the type of temperament the learner you selected displays.In your paragraph, include information regarding: • Possible differences you see in the attitudes of the learner towards schoolwork. • Areas where temperament impacts either positively or negatively on academic achievement and areas of assessment. • Possible areas in which your feelings and reactions towards this learner may be affecting his/her motivation to learn.If you find that the learner you have selected for evaluation has a difficult temperament, suggest waysof how you could provide support for this learner. Then, put your plans into action and keep a recordof what you do and how effective your actions and support is in terms of improving your learner’scognitive, emotional and motivational development.While you have covered issues relating to the cycle of poverty, it is important that you spend a shortperiod of time reflecting on what you have learnt and applying this information to Ellie’s story aboutThomas. The reason for this will become clear as you move on to section 4.5 of this chapter that dealswith the need for understanding and accommodating different learning styles within a classroomsituation.26
  30. 30. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics4. The effect of poverty onlearningIn this section, we look at how the cycle of poverty can affect a learner’s cognition, motivation andlearning. But before we do so, turn back to section 4.2 and reread what Ellie has to say about Thomas. Do you remember?Poverty affects motivationA learner who comes from an impoverished background tends to feel hungry, insecure and unsafe.Just being provided with food, will not alleviate the feelings of insecurity and lack of safety. Learnerswho do not have their basic needs met at home will have very little motivation for working at school.Learners from poverty stricken backgrounds seldom have role models of people who have benefittedand improved their lives through education. Their caregivers often have negative attitudes towardseducation and in many cases cannot read and write properly themselves. In addition, there is seldom aculture of learning in homes where poverty is found.Poverty affects cognitionLearners from impoverished families backgrounds get to schoolinadequately equipped to deal with academic learning as their homelife, on the whole, is intellectually impoverished and mediation fromcaregivers is minimal. In addition, learners from impoverishedhome environments usually have short attention spans, find itdifficult to concentrate, struggle to get organised, struggle to solveproblems and usually have a very limited general knowledge aboutthe world.STOP AND THINK! Think back to what Ellie had to say about Thomas. Can you understand why her attempts to feed him and provide him with writing materials have failed to motivate him? Can you think of any possible reasons that could be causing him to be disruptive and to steal? What suggestions would you provide Ellie with for understanding and assisting a learner such as Thomas? 27
  31. 31. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsTAKE NOTE! Learners who come from impoverished home backgrounds need a lot of encouragement, motivation and mediation. They also need to be taught strategies for coping with academic learning.These issues will all be covered in detail in the section that follows.28
  32. 32. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics5. Understanding learning stylesIn recent years, increased attention has been given to the concept of “Learning Styles”. Where did such a concept come from?The concept of learning styles developed from observations that individuals differ in theirwillingness or tendency to learn from different activities or approaches.For example, some individuals prefer practical exercises and are eager to learn from their mistakeswhile others prefer to receive demonstration and examples before reflecting on content. On the otherhand, some people rely heavily on theoretical, abstract discussion to establish thought processes andmethod for action while others prefer to be given information or taught skills. Um. I wish the I see! I know the teacher wouldn’t answer. Ask me! Ask me! ask questions so fast. I need time to think about the answer.Observations of how different individuals prefer different styles of learning have also been linked todiscoveries about how the brain develops. Research has shown that experience and mediation play animportant role in the development of a child’s understanding of him/herself and the surroundingworld. Research has also shown that when teaching styles fit with children’s learning styles, optimallearning takes place.When it comes to teaching and learning in a classroom situation, there are two words that you, as aneducator, need to take to heart. • The first is “experience”. • The second is “mediation”. 29
  33. 33. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsMediationMediation is a word that refers to the assistance provided by caregivers, educators or other people to alearner. The word “mediate” means to “come between and to negotiate”. In educational terms, itmeans to work between the meanings and understandings that a learner has constructed or built upinside their own minds and extend or expand on these meanings to help the learner develop newmeanings that are embedded in the curriculum or different learning areas. Basically, mediationinvolves helping a learner to use his or her own prior knowledge and extend this knowledge to a newlevel of understanding.Mediation is one of the main keys available to educators that can be used to unlock learners’ability and potential!In this section, where we explore what is needed for the brain to make meaning, you are provided withan opportunity to understand just how important mediation is for learners who experience cognitivedifferences as well as for learners who have been disadvantaged in terms of educational experiences.STOP AND THINK! Have you ever thought of a learner in your class as “brain damaged”, “retarded” or “stupid” because they have been unable to understand a simple concept or answer an easy general knowledge question that you believe most three-year-olds would know the answer to? If you have had these thoughts, have you ever taken the time to find out why one or more learners may have found a concept difficult to grasp or understand? Have you ever tried to discover the reason behind a learner’s inappropriate or limited answer to what you perceive to be an ‘easy question’? Have you considered that unless a learner has experience of a particular situation or has had a concept properly explained to them, their ability to answer questions or grasp concepts may be impaired? In addition, because many of the learners who enter our classrooms come from homes where there is a lack of a good culture of learning, educators will be faced with a large number of learners who do not have experience regarding content knowledge across learning areas. Further, many of the learners in southern African schools are learning through the medium of a second or third language that frequently interferes with their understanding of explanations provided within a classroom situation. Such learners have a real need for a sensitive and informed mediator who is able to assist and guide them in their understanding of academic concepts and in their interpretation of the world around them. Consider this!If a learner in your class has been brought up in an inner city environment, perhaps in a block of flatsin the middle of town, she may never have seen plants in her home or immediate environment. Withsuch a background, if no one has ever told the learner stories or shown her pictures of plants, how isthis child supposed to take part in any classroom activities on themes involving “plants”, “forestry”,“nature”, “germination” etc. And if the learner does try and take part and makes a mistake, is she“stupid”?30
  34. 34. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsI feel like such an idiot. Yesterday in the science lesson, my teacher asked us what plants needed togrow. She said they needed water, air and ‘sunlight’. I thought she meant the dish wash called‘sunlight’ that I had heard about on TV. They laughed at me when I drew a bottle of Sunlight liquid inmy book and the teacher showed the class what I had done.A learner may have been brought up in a fishing village in the Western Cape. Because nearly all theadults around him are involved in fishing in some way, he could have an excellent understanding ofthe sea, the weather, different types of fish, and different ways of fishing. However, if such a learner,particularly if he is learning in English rather than Afrikaans (his home language) is not asked the sortof questions that draw on his knowledge and experience, or if the vocabulary used in the questioning isunfamiliar to him, he may never be able to show his knowledge. In addition, because this learner’sknowledge is related to the traditional practical art and technology of fishing, rather than formalabstract school knowledge, educators could well perceive him as unintelligent. Today in the maths lesson my teacher said we’d be making nets in our next class. She asked us to draw a net for one of the shapes we thought we could manage. I drew a fishing net (visnet), like the ones let down from my father’s boat in the sea. Everyone laughed at me when the teacher showed the class what I had done. I felt so stupid. TAKE NOTE! Educators, no matter how dedicated or determined to help their learners, sometimes fall into the trap of labelling a learner as “stupid”. This is an extremely dangerous practice, as we do not know what goes on in the minds of our learners. When we examine how the brain functions, and how it relies as much on input as what it does on output, we may begin to rethink the way we teach.Let’s take a look at how the brain functions right now!UNDERSTANDING THE WAY IN WHICH THE BRAINFUNCTIONS IN A LEARNING SITUATIONThe brain is an incredibly complex organ that constantly receives information from inside and outsideof the body. As the brain receives different forms of information, it quickly analyses it and then sendsout messages that control bodily functions and actions. The brain also stores information from pastexperiences, which makes learning and remembering possible. In addition, the brain is the source ofthoughts, moods and emotions.Because the brain is the control centre of the human body and is constantly working on a number ofdifferent things at the same time, scientists and educationalists have found it difficult to find outexactly how the brain is involved in the extraordinarily complicated process of thinking, rememberingand processing information. However, scientists and educationalists have discovered that the processof learning involves three important components, namely, input, elaboration, and output. 31
  35. 35. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics INPUT ELABORATION OUTPUTOver the next few pages we will see the importance of each of these components as well as how theywork together in helping learners understand and make meaning of information and experiences. INPUT All learning or meaning making begins through input. Input comes from the environment in the form of stimuli - things that individuals can see, hear, touch, smell and taste. This stimuli is transferred to the brain by complex nerves. In the brain, the information is placed into the correct section to be analysed, made sense of, and linked to concepts the learner has already built.For example, a learner who has never seen a strawberry before may hear from his teacher thatstrawberries taste sweet. This information is transferred to the brain where it is linked to a learner’spast experience of ‘sweet tasting things’. The brain analyses the information and tries to make senseof it by linking what has been heard to past experiences of sight and taste. In the learner’s mind, theword ‘strawberries’ is linked to sweet tasting foods such as jam, chocolate and ice cream. Withoutfurther input such as sight and touch or an explanation that a strawberry is a fruit, the learner may failto respond to questions asking him to provide examples of sweet tasting fruit. Strawberries sound nice. Maybe I can Strawberries taste sweet. have some for my birthday party.32
  36. 36. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsFrom this example we begin to see how the brain uses input, elaboration or processing and output inthe learning process.Understanding the importance of input, let us now move on to look more closely at how the brainelaborates on and processes the information it receives. ELABORATION OR PROCESSING OF INFORMATIONIn the elaboration or processing stage, inside of a person’s brain, meaning is placed on the stimulireceived.As we have seen in the previous example, accurate meaning is dependant on a learner’s pastexperience as well as on the type of stimuli provided to a learner. Because of this, educators need tomake use of different stimuli and as many concrete examples as possible when introducing newconcepts or topics to learners. It is also important that educators find out about their learners’ pastexperiences and either build on these experiences or provide new experiences that will preventmisunderstanding and allow for appropriate meaning to take place.STOP AND THINK! In your teaching experience, you will have come across learners who have misinterpreted or misunderstood something that you were trying to teach them. Think of an example of when this has happened. With a specific example in mind, think about how such a misunderstanding could have occurred. Using the information you have just learnt about how the brain functions, think about what you as an educator could have done to help ‘confused’ learners gain a better understanding of a particular topic or concept they have misunderstood.Right now you may be feeling quite happy about your ability to help learners process meaning throughthe provision of better stimuli, the use of examples, and by building on their past experiences. Butbefore you get too excited, there is something very important that you need to understand about theelaboration or processing of information in the brain… Not everybody processes information in the same way!Educational psychologists believe that there are two basic ways people can process information: in a top-down manner or in a bottom-up manner. 33
  37. 37. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsThis may sound confusing, but it really makes sense and can go a long way towards helping youunderstand your learners’ needs. Just think for a minute about how even when you have gone to a lotof trouble to explain new work to your class, some learners understand it immediately, while othersseem to battle and struggle to make sense of what is going on.One possible reason for this type of situation is that different learners in your class processinformation differently and perhaps the way you have presented a lesson may be more appropriate toone way of information processing than another.Spend some time now reading about the two ways people can process information Some people are what are called “top-down processors”This means that they are able to see things as a “whole” and understand how the different parts havecreated the whole. Top-down processors usually have a good understanding of concepts, however,they may experience difficulty with the smaller details of their thinking compared to other people.Let’s look at an example of the type of work ‘top-down processors’ may show in a classroomsituation. Matthew is a top-down processor. He understands concepts quickly and shows a good understanding in different learning areas. His marks are quite high in most of his subjects, except for mathematics. Let’s take a look at one of Matthew’s maths papers and find out why.Matthew always gets the answers to difficult maths sums correct, but for this paper he only received 2marks out of 8 because he did not show his working out. Top-down processors can often solvedifficult maths problems in their heads, but not be able to write down or explain how they did it.Matthew is able to do these calculations mentally, but he is being penalised by a marking system thatinsists that he shows some working for his solutions. He might have done the calculations mentally byusing the following strategies:1) 47 × 99 = 47 × 100 − 47 = 4700 − 47 = 46532) 83 × 50 = 41,5 × 100 = 415034
  38. 38. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsLet’s move on to look at another way of processing information. But as you do so, keep in mind whatyou have learnt about top-down processors. Some people are what are called “bottom-up processors”“Bottom-up processors” need to see detail in everything and find it important to learn concepts insequence, however, they often experience difficulty understanding the whole picture.Take a look at this example: Terry is a bottom-up processor. He takes quite a while to understand new concepts taught in class and struggles to apply his knowledge across different learning areas. While he is not a ‘bad’ student, his marks are not very good although he sometimes does quite well at maths. Let’s take a look at one of Terry’s maths papers and find out why.When given complex sums to complete, bottom-up processors tend to start at the beginning and workout step-by-step where they are going. If they do not get the right answer, it is possible that they havemissed out on learning a step that would give them the sequence or structure to obtain the wholeanswer.Let’s take a look at another example of how top-down and bottom-up processors differ in the way theywork.Terry and Matthew are in the same class. During a Language lesson one day, their teacher put apicture on the chalkboard and asked the learners to write a story about the picture.Here is the picture the boys were asked to write about. 35
  39. 39. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsNow notice the difference in their writing:Let’s begin by looking at what Matthew wrote:Driving in his car on the way to work, a man heardthat a young girl had been kidnapped. As he drove henoticed that in the car in front of him was a girl whoappeared to be tied up. Using his cell phone, the mancalled the police and chased after the suspect. Hefollowed the car along a deserted area while informingthe police of his position. The kidnapper drove faster andfaster, but he could not escape. Finally, the kidnapperran out of petrol and the other man caught up withhim. He punched the kidnapper and tied him up whilehe waited for the police to arrive. The little girl wassafe and the man got a reward from the police.Now we will see what Terry wrote.There is a road. The road is crooked. There are two carson the road. One car is in front of the other. Thecars have doors and windows. The cars have lights andwheels. The cars are shiny.From the written work of Matthew and Terry, it is quite clear to see how Matthew’s ability to see the‘whole picture’ allows him to be creative and flexible in his work and earn good marks in learningareas where attention to detail is not required. Terry on the other hand is so absorbed with the detailsof the picture he is writing about that he has no real focus to his story.It is interesting to see how learners who process information in different ways can either beadvantaged or disadvantaged in their work depending on learning areas and the cognitive skills thatdifferent subjects or learning areas require.36
  40. 40. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsSTOP AND THINK!Spend a few minutes thinking about different learning areas that top-down processors would do wellin and the learning areas that would reward a bottom-up processor’s attention to detail. Then thinkabout subjects or learning areas that a top-down or bottom-up processor would experience difficultiesin.Now think about the subject or learning area that you are mostly involved in teaching. Which type ofprocessor would be most likely to experience difficulty in your area of teaching? How do you thinkyou could provide support to a learner who experiences difficulty due to a difference in the way he orshe processes information?TAKE NOTE!No one learner is ever totally top-down or bottom-up in their processing and different learners willhave strengths and weaknesses in both areas. However, research has shown that people are usuallypredominantly (mainly) one type of processor or the other.Moving on, it is time for you to take a look at what happens in a person’s brain after the informationreceived from a stimulus has been processed.Once the brain has processed the information from one or more types of stimuli and problem solvingand reasoning have taken place, the individual is ready to make a decision about what to do and thinknext or how to answer or respond. This is called the output stage. OUTPUTOutput involves things such as whole body movement (in obeying an instruction such as sitting down),language use (answering a question or asking for further information), partial body movement (writingor drawing), and more thinking.An individual’s output is very important in a school or classroom situation, as it is output that allowseducators to determine whether or not a learner has understood what has been asked of him or her orwhere meaning may have been misinterpreted. In addition, as can be seen from the maths and writingexamples of Matthew and Terry, output can also provide an indicator as to the way in which a learnerprocesses information and where they may require extra support.From the information in this section, we can learn some interesting facts, which should have an affecton the way you as an educator offer support and provide methods of instruction.Take a good look at the information found in the fact file on the next page and then complete theactivity that follows. 37
  41. 41. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics FACT FILE • Not all learners learn in the same way. • Not all educators teach in the same way. • Educators who learn in a particular way tend to teach in the way that they learn. • Learners who learn in the same way the educator learns, frequently do better than learners who learn in a different way because the educators style of teaching doesn’t suit them properly. • All learners need a lot of experience and mediation to assist their understanding of new concepts and to help them link new information to their existing concept maps. • Learners who come from disadvantaged backgrounds need a lot of visual (sight), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste) stimuli to assist them in obtaining information from the world around them, especially within a classroom setting when learning about new or unfamiliar concepts is common practice.Spend some time thinking about a task that you are going to or have already set for your learners aspart of their classroom activity. With your task in mind and using the information you have learned inthis section, complete the diagram on the following page.Remember that any task you set for learners needs clear input, and both top-down and bottom-upprocessing skills. TASK What top down skills will a learner need to complete this task? What output is What input is expected? needed? What bottom up skills will a learner need to complete this task?38
  42. 42. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristicsAfter completing this diagram, you may want to rethink the way you present your task to yourlearners. You may also want to use this diagram as a means of analysing the tasks you set for yourlearners on a continuous basis until it becomes a natural process for you when planning classroomactivities.TAKE NOTE!An educator who does not know the particular learners past experience or understanding of aparticular concept or knowledge should never consider learners "stupid". As an educator it isimportant that you accommodate different types of learning styles in your classroom in order toestablish a good culture of learning.You may well understand the importance and benefit of accommodating different learning styles inyour classroom, but perhaps you are wondering just how this can be done.The answer is found when you move from theory into practice and when you gain a deeperunderstanding of the different types of learning styles that can be found amongst a diverse learnerpopulation and how these learning styles can be supported. 39
  43. 43. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics6. Supporting learning styles in aclassroom situationIn order to be able to accommodate different types of learning styles within a classroom setting, it isimportant that you are able to identify characteristics of various learning styles.While the learning styles covered in this section are not the only learning styles found in educationalliterature, we believe that they will give you a broad idea of some of the most common learning stylesfound amongst a diverse learner population. In this section we will look at four learning stylesdeveloped by Honey and Mumford in 1986.As defined by Honey and Mumford, four distinct learning styles, which can be found among learners,are: Activist learning style Reflector learning style Theorist learning style, and Pragmatist learning styleWe will now spend some time looking in detail at typical characteristics of each of the above-mentioned learning styles. As you read through the information that follows, see if you can identifywhich learning style suits you best!40
  44. 44. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics ACTIVISTSLearners who are Activists enjoy classroom activities that involve their participation in the learningprocess. They tend to enjoy short-term problem solving as well as the challenge of new experiences.They are excited by new approaches to teaching and learning situations, but get quite bored withimplementation, revision, and long-term consolidation. Activists learn best from activities where: Activists learn least from, and may react negatively against, activities where: a) there are new or novel experiences, a) they are in a passive role, e.g. reading, exercises and problems from which to learn. watching, or listening. b) they can involve themselves in short b) they are required to observe and not get “here and now” activities such as learning involved. games, group work tasks and role-playing exercises. c) there is excitement and drama, rapid c) they are required to assimilate, analyse or changes, or a wide range of varied activities interpret unclear information or work they to cope with. feel has no relevance to their lives. d) they are given problem-solving activities d) they are given theoretical explanations. to tackle. e) they are involved with other people as e) they must practice an activity over and part of a team and can share their ideas. over again in the form of rote learning or revision. f) they have precise instructions to follow.STOP AND THINK! Does your teaching style encourage or hinder this type of learner? Think about what you could do in your lesson preparation and planning to provide good learning experiences for this type of learner. 41
  45. 45. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics REFLECTORSReflectors like to stand back and think about experiences and observe them from differentperspectives. They collect information and ideas and think about them carefully before coming to anyconclusion. They enjoy watching other people in action and often take a back seat when in a groupsituation. They tend to be cautious, especially when called on to answer a question.Reflectors learn best from activities where: Reflectors learn least from activities where:a) they are allowed to watch and think about a) they are forced into the lime-light andactivities before getting down to starting have to take part in activities such as rolethem. playing in front of others.b) they are able to stand back from things b) they are thrown into situations withoutand listen or observe, e.g. observing an warning and where they must act withoutexperiment, watching a video, etc. preparation.c) they are allowed to think before they act, c) they are given cut and dried instructionsand are provided with opportunities to as to how things should be done and whereprepare for situations and responses. they are needed to act without thinking.d) they have the opportunity to review what d) they are expected to move rapidly fromhas happened and what they have learnt. one activity to another due to time pressures.e) they can exchange views, ideas, etc. with e) they are required to take short cuts or do aother people in a risk free atmosphere where superficial job for practical purposes.they do not feel pressured to excel.STOP AND THINK! Does your teaching style encourage or hinder this type of learner? Think about what you could do in your lesson preparation and planning to provide good learning experiences for this type of learner.42
  46. 46. Reading: Understanding intrapersonal characteristics THEORISTSTheorists enjoy learning about principles, theories, models and systems. They prize rationality andlogic. Theorists often appear to be detached and analytical in a classroom setting and are unhappywith subjective or ambiguous experiences. They like to put ideas in order.Theorists learn best from activities where: Theorists learn least from, and may react negatively against, activities where:a) what they are being offered is part of a a) they are forced into performing ansystem, model or theory. activity which has no apparent purpose.b) they are faced with an intellectual b) they have to participate in situationschallenge such as being tested. emphasising emotions and feelings.c) they are involved in activities that are c) they are involved in unstructuredwell structured and which have a clear activities in which uncertainty is high.purpose.d) they are offered interesting ideas and d) they are asked to act or decide aboutconcepts, even though these may not be something they know little about.immediately relevant.e) they are required to understand and e) they find subject matter shallow orparticipate in complex situations. superficial.STOP AND THINK! Does your teaching style encourage or hinder this type of learner? Think about what you could do in your lesson preparation and planning to provide good learning experiences for this type of learner. 43